Ohio State spring game tells part of story


COLUMBUS – There were no big revelations in Ohio State’s spring football football game on Saturday, just smaller surprises like discovering running back Mike Weber is left-handed when he threw a pass to quarterback J.T. Barrett on a trick play.

But there were enough things unearthed that at least a partial picture of the 2017 Buckeyes could be imagined, and in one case there was an intriguing glimpse of 2018.

The Scarlet team, led by sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow (14 of 22 for 262 yards and three touchdowns), wide receiver Johnnie Dixon (6 catches, 108 yards, 3 Tds) and running back Demario McCall (6 carries, 83 yards) held off the Gray team 38-31.

Freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins (21 of 32 for 255 yards and two scores) was the driver of the Gray offense.

Ohio State’s first-team players barely played and when they did the defense had to keep their hands off the entire starting offensive unit, not just the quarterback, as is customary in most spring games.

Starting left tackle Jamarco Jones did not dress and the first quarter and a half resembled a game of two-hand touch football with no skill position players being taken to the ground on tackles.

Still, it was possible to discern some things from Saturday’s exhibition.

A few of them included these items:

—Spring game success doesn’t always translate to regular-season achievement, but if Dixon stays healthy, OSU might have found a deep threat in the often-injured fourth-year wide receiver.

Dixon was touted as one of the top wide receiver recruits in the country when he signed with Ohio State in 2014. But knee problems have limited him to seven catches in the last three seasons.

“Johnnie is an enigma. He got here and had tendinitis issues in his knees. He would go to two practices and then miss two practices,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said.

“He decided to take one last swing and he had the best spring. He didn’t miss a practice. I was so happy to see him have success because we really need him,” he said.

Center Billy Price joked that Dixon has “grandpa knees” and said, “To see him get back to the old Johnnie he always knew was in there was awesome.”

—Right now, Meyer appears satisfied with the progress of 77 percent of the Buckeyes and wants to see improvement by the other 23 percent.

“Nine units strong” is one of Meyer’s mantras. After Saturday’s game he said,““I’m very pleased. There are a couple of areas we have to shore up. I don’t think we’re nine strong but we’re seven strong right now.”

Asked which two units needed to improve, he said, “That’s between me and the two.”

— Burrow, last year’s No. 2 quarterback, played well enough to keep that job but Haskins’ performance appeared to make him a credible threat to challenge for that position on the depth chart. It certainly appears OSU will have an interesting battle for the starting quarterback job in 2018.

Meyer said he wasn’t ready to commit to either as the No. 2 right now. “I”m not prepared to say who’s two and who’s three, etc. yet,” he said.

—Ohio State’s offense could be more interesting and more productive this fall with Kevin Wilson as its coordinator.

Wilson directed the Scarlet team’s offense, which produced 385 yards total offense, 343 of it in the air, in the abbreviated spring game, which consisted of four 10-minute quarters.

Price described Wilson’s offense as “explosive” and said, “You’re seeing Demario McCall running down the sideline, you’re seeing Johnnie Dixon running down the sideline. You’re seeing Joe Burrow drop dimes.”

—McCall might be able to provide some of the big-play ability Curtis Samuel brought to the lineup last year.

The sophomore running back appears to have added some much-needed weight without losing any speed. He delivered some big plays last year during blowouts. The question is if he can do the same thing against first-team defenses.

—Kicker Sean Nuernberger, who lost his job to walk-on Tyler Durbin last season, took a positive step in what is expected to be a competition between him and highly rated incoming freshman Blake Haubeil in preseason camp when he kicked field goals of 42 yards and 33 yards.

The spring game ended with a special play in which 17-year-old Jacob Jarvis, who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, took a handoff from quarterback J.T. Barrett and motored his wheelchair into the end zone.

Meyer said defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes suggested having Jarvis, who has had a relationship with OSU’s football team since 2014, score a touchdown.

“They asked if we could do that, and I wasn’t sure how you would do it,” Meyer said. “But we worked it out, and it was the players’ idea, which shows you what kind of character we have in our upperclassmen. We love Jacob. He’s a part of our family.”

Lewis said, “Yesterday after practice, Coach Meyer said, ‘Remind me and we’ll get it done.’ And we got it done.

“Oh man, it really lifts your spirit seeing it. Things like that really lift your spirit. Everybody loves Jacob,” he said.


By Jim Naveau

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Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.

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